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Study finds US children get 40% of their calories from junk food

Nearly half of the calories came from six food items including soda fruit drinks, grain desserts, dairy desserts pizza and whole milk.

Crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks! Food that is high on fat and sugar (or both) and low on other nutrients is becoming common among American children, claims a new study.

According to researchers, children are becoming a generation of fast food junkies who get almost half their daily energy intake from the so called `empty calorie' foods like soda and pizza, with little to no nutritional value.

This indeed is a disturbing trend because an unhealthy diet not only fuels obesity but also increases the risk for a range of illnesses, including heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.

Dr Mary Story of the University of Minnesota stated, "When you look at the finding that 40% of total calories consumed by kids were in the form of empty calories, that's cause for great concern.

“If you go to convenience stores or corner stores that are close to schools, [these foods] are really cheap and plentiful. We should not be surprised by this -- we should be outraged."

According to researchers, children are becoming a generation of fast food junkies who get almost half their daily energy intake from the so called `empty calorie' foods like soda and pizza, with little to no nutritional value.

Primary sources of energy food in adolescent diet identified
In an attempt to identify the top dietary sources of energy, solid fats, and added sugars among children ages 2 to 18 years, the researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) using the USDA MyPyramid Equivalents Database.

The researchers found out that of the average 2,200 daily calories needed in an adolescent’s diet, nearly 40 percent was in the form of empty calories.

The primary sources of energy were found to be fruit juices, with the sugar sweetened beverage contributing to nearly 173 calories. About 433 calories came from solid fats and 365 from added sugars.

This is two to five times the recommended daily limit of empty calories.

Nearly half of the calories came from six food items including soda, fruit drinks, grain desserts, dairy desserts pizza and whole milk.

Other highlights of the study
The researchers also found that kids of different ages get their energy from different sources.

The top sources of energy for two to three year-olds came from whole milk, fruit juice, reduced-fat milk, and pasta and pasta dishes, while for children aged four to eight years it was from pasta and reduced-fat milk.

In addition, energy sources also varied according to race and ethnicity. Diet of black kids contained more of fruit drinks and pasta dishes, while the main energy sources of Mexican American kids was Mexican mixed dishes and whole milk.

It was also noted that blacks and whites consumed more energy from sugar-sweetened beverages than milk, whereas the exact opposite held true for Mexican Americans who consumed more energy from milk than from soda and fruit drinks.

A word of advise for parents
According to researchers, children are not solely responsible for their inclination to junk food. Parents are equally culpable.

Kids can't make healthy choices for themselves until parents make those choices first.

Food choices are partially dictated by what is served in the house by parents.

Experts, suggest that parents should include more healthy foods with less energy in the diet of kids.

Lead authors of the study, Dr Jill Reedy and Susan M. Krebs-Smith, dietitians from the U.S. National Cancer Institute’s division in Bethesda, Maryland stated, “The epidemic of obesity among children and adolescents is now widely regarded as one of the most important public health problems in the US.

"Most experts agree that the solution will involve changes in both diet and physical activity, in order to affect energy balance. For diet, this means a reduction in energy from current consumption levels.

“This paper identifies the major sources of overall energy and empty calories, providing context for dietary guidance that could specifically focus on limiting calories from these sources and for changes in the food environment.

"Product reformulation alone is not sufficient - the flow of empty calories into the food supply must be reduced.”

The findings are reported in the recent issue of the 'Journal of the American Dietetic Association.'